Author: Daniel Bianchi
Category: Media Engagement, Partnership, Scripture Engagement
The Bible and the Global South Church
I would like to share some basic reflections regarding the engagement of the Southern and Eastern Church in the Bible Translation Movement. Please note that my considerations of the church of the South arise from the context of my being from Argentina, with experience of the work in Latin America and with some years of service in international mission organizations. On the other hand, I realize that I am still “new” to the vision and to the work of Bible Translation (BT). I received the challenge for BT in 1999 through leaders from Wycliffe Bible Translators (and so I am very grateful to them, specially, to Dr. Dave Oltrogge for the part he played). Even my experience is limited; I would like to share some considerations.
1. The perception of the church in the North The church in the North looks at the church in the South with “northern” eyes. This means, among other things, that the church in South and East are to be seen not as they “should” be, neither as the North expect (or want) them to be. The long standing dominance of the North has to give way to the reality of the church in the South and East not only as something “emergent” but as a present reality. The North needs to see that the church in the S&E have the right and the (God-given) obligation to participate as equal partners in Bible Translation. This shift has enormous implications for the church in the North and will require gentle humility, open communication, a servant attitude and an unflagging disposition to face change. This will take effort and time, and will demand committed leadership to see it carried through.
2. The perception of the church of the South The church in the South tends to look at herself through the eyes of the North. For centuries, the message to the churches in S&E has been something like “You can’t do it. You are too young. You don’t have the resources. You need help”. When you convince someone that he needs help you also convince him that he can’t help others, somebody said. The church in the S&E needs to regard herself as valuable, capable and responsible as the rest of the church. The church in the S&E ought to realize that she has much to offer. For many the lack of financial resources, expertise and technology causes her to feel like a “second class partner”. The church of the N&S has much to give in personnel, commitment, passion, suffering, etc.
3. The engagement of the church in the South For many years, and in most of the countries of Latin America, there have been Bible translation projects and ministries committed to Bible Translation (i.e. UBS, SIL). However, those organizations have not sufficiently informed, nor intentionally engaged, the national churches in Bible Translation--though I know that it can be argued that this was not part of their ends. However, that vision was shared to some extent--inside the national borders--little attention was given to the need of involving those churches among Bibleless peoples beyond their own borders. We can think of many examples of this: the churches in Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Argentina, to mention a few countries, had not been engaged, in spite of the fact of the long standing presence of some organizations. Somehow the church at large was passed over and came into the picture only at the moment of the dedication of the New Testament. This un-attachment of the church, its lack of ownership, remains a challenge and an opportunity before us.
4. The church of the South’s understanding of partnership The Spanish Reina Valera Bible renders “communion” as “partnership” in Philippians 1.5. The same word is translated “partnership” in many English versions. The word conveys the meaning of cooperation, fellowship, partakers, constant companionship, and perseverance in friendship (Act.2.42). From it comes: common, communication and community, among many other things. Partnership is exemplified in the “one with another” of the New Testament. Suffice it to say that there are more than 50 such occurrences. We all need to recognize that fellowship/sharing, then, is the essence of the Gospel and of the Godhead. (John 3.16). Partnership rightly understood is far more than sharing economic resources, although, of course, that is also implied. The church in the North needs to rethink partnership not only, or mainly, along financial lines but as comprising much more, as already mentioned. We not only partner because there is a great task before us. Sharing (partnership) is not motivated by utilitarianism or pragmatism..
For example the current assumption (sustained by the North, and increasingly objected to by the South) is that the ones that have the “hard” resources (money, expertise, technology, training, information, the know-how, etc) is the principal (main) partner and thus the one who has the real control of the partnership. A disturbing thought for some that arises from an understanding of true partnership, is that the economic issue is no longer the decisive factor in the relationship. In fact, we have to develop a partnership where the seemingly “weak” partner has the same--or even more--control than the one who has the hard resources. We all need to have in mind that, after all, being strong, powerful and big is not always a great advantage. Dare we contemplate the possibility that behind this discussion there are issues of control: holding and sharing, risking, changing and taking new roles in a new scenario? There are many responses to this issue of partnership among South and North. Some southerners look at the North and their main interest is having the money. This is expressed in terms like: “Just give us the money and we will do the job”. Others are ambivalent: on one hand they profit from the North and at the same time they don’t want to have any relationship with it and even are very articulate in their criticism. Similarly, some northerners see the church in the South as a subsidiary of the North and a means for accomplishing personal or organizational goals.
Some have the expectation that since they give money they are the ones to make all the decisions without regard to the national church. In some mission circles, and for a umber of years, the talks have been along the lines of: “Let’s just support southern and eastern missionaries since they will be better accepted than the northern missionaries”. For some time, some of us from the South have the impression that we were “rediscovered” as a result of a “pay less gain more” (low risk high profit) market philosophy. This new “discovery of the South” has resulted in an increased number of mission initiatives quite disconnected from the National Mission Movement (the people that have been working in this) or the active participation of national leaders and local churches.
The southern church is not poor in human resources, commitment, willingness to face difficulties, innovation, trained people, and so on. Neither is she poor in economic resources. She has a lot to give: there are many untapped resources. In many countries, northern missionaries did not instruct the churches in the Biblical teaching on giving. That lack of stewardship retarded the process of responsible participation of those churches. Surely, unbeknown to the vast majority of those missionaries, this omission fostered the “We can’t” mentality of those newer churches. For a long time the missions movement in these counties has been fighting against a “poverty mentality” that has bred impotency. Thankfully, many of those churches are now taking their place, realizing that they have also been called to the privilege of supporting the work.
5. The Church is where North, South, West and East meet The Church does not belong to a particular country, culture, political system, language or age. The Church is God’s worldwide multicultural and multilingual people. Both North and South are called to serve in God’s mission. It would be interesting for some leaders from the North to write what it will take for the northern church to make room for the church in the South and vice versa. In former times there were “Greeks” and “Jews” but in Christ they were one, and so we are one in the Lord and Savior of all the people. In the same manner, we can see that there are ways in which the southern church can help and contribute to the mission engagement of the northern church and vice versa. Both sides need to listen better, serve more and love stronger.
6. The church in the South is very diverse This is so obvious that I doubt I need to mention it. When talking of the S&E churches we are impressed with the huge diversity that there is. Terms like “Latin America” are very broad and many times produce generalizations and misconceptions. The same can be said of other latitudes. Sometimes I have observed with amazement how people from the North are acutely aware of the differences found in Europe, but are unaware of, or tend to oversimplify, the realities of Latin America. The engagement of the southern church is at different stages in each country and therefore we need to find the right strategies in each place. Above all, and first of all, we need to find committed world mission and Bible translation leaders. Those leaders must have a proven testimony and recognition of the church in their countries. Also we need to count on new generation leaders (under 40’s) to serve dynamically in Vision 2025.
7. The church in the South faces may challenges There are many challenges in front of us; most of which are beyond the limits of this brief essay. Just to mention a few that impact the engagement of the church. We all realize that the numerical growth of the church is only a part of the picture. Yet even that numerical growth is even in the countries, much less so if we talk about quality growth. That growth coexists with lack of giving, training, discipleship, leadership accountability, “ecclesiocentrism” (extreme church centeredness, )etc. The gospel had for long been seen as something mainly to save souls and not also as God’s power to change families, communities and to make an impact in society, government, economy, education, etc. The impact of the church is not yet felt in her context--as we can observe in many countries where a large church has had no impact, for instance, on gross corruption. In many countries, the church is increasingly aware of her new role and, realizes the need to be prepared to face the hour. There has been an increasing response to participate in politics but the results have been very diverse. Something else to notice: for some years, and in different forums, there have been discussions on the need of a holistic approach to missions. This is also shaping much of the mission involvement, or lack of it, in the southern church.
Congratulation to WBTI for taking time in Board Meetings and in many international (and regional events) to reflect and discuss these issues. This process has going farther and spawned in a number of initiatives. I appreciate their involvement and commitment to see the Latin America Church fully engaged in Bible Translation and related ministry with the ultimate goal so serve people and seek transformation. We should pursue our divine call to put God’s Word into the language of the heart of all people of the earth, and in the process engaging and serving His Church around the world.